Enhancements to Aerosol Jet Printing Platform will Enable Production of High Performance Graded Fuel Cells
Albuquerque, New Mexico, 1 September 2011: Optomec today announced a new $500,000 contract extension from the Air Force Research Laboratory (AFRL) to enhance its Aerosol Jet system to enable the production of graded fuel cell structures in a single manufacturing step, versus current multiple step approaches. The system will be used by AFRL to develop and prototype high efficiency solid oxide fuel cells (SOFCs) based on Aerosol Jet technology’s unique material mixing capabilities. These advances will improve the electrical and mechanical performance of fuel cells, increase the material utilization rates, and substantially lower manufacturing and equipment costs.
A Optomec’s Aerosol Jet solution is a fundamental building block for a range of fine feature printed electronics, including applications in solar cell manufacturing and advanced semiconductor packaging. Working together with AFRL, Optomec has extended Aerosol Jet capabilities to enable the printing of high performance fuel cells.
Commercialization of SOFC technology has been limited in part by the lack of processing methods suited for mass production. Commonly used approaches, such as: tape casting, screen printing, spray, spin and dip coating; have limitations due to the inability for easy scale up and difficulties in obtaining layer uniformity and reproducible microstructures. Alternative techniques based on physical vapor deposition involve high equipment and operating costs. Aerosol Jet systems provide a compelling alternative to these legacy methods, based on its ability to cost-effectively print fuel cell components with exceptional uniformity, reproducibility and a greater utilization of active materials. It also serves as an ideal development and prototyping tool due to its ability to readily and reproducibly alter cell architectures and material compositions.
Most notably, the Aerosol Jet solution has a unique ability to create graded interfaces between the fuel cell’s primary component layers: the anode, electrolyte, and cathode. These graded “inter-layers” simultaneously increase cell performance by enlarging the reaction zone and improve mechanical stability by alleviating the mismatches in thermal expansion. Using this capability, AFRL has demonstrated the ability to increase SOFC power densities by more than 30%. Under this contract extension, Optomec will further enhance the Aerosol Jet hardware to enable seamless, high throughput production of these unique high performance graded fuel cells.
The AFRL system and its enhancements will remain housed at the Propulsion Directorate Energy/Power/Thermal Division at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base in Dayton, OH. The system will continue to be primarily used to develop deposition processes for SOFCs.
Dr. Ryan Miller of the Thermal and Electrochemical branch states, “Optomec and AFRL continue to have a productive partnership, through the development of further enhancements to the Aerosol Jet system. It brings a unique capability to our lab in the area of thick film material deposition with a wide range of applications, in addition to solid oxide fuel cells.”
Optomec is the world-leading provider of additive manufacturing solutions for high-performance applications in the Electronics, Solar, Medical, and Aerospace & Defense markets. These systems utilize Optomec’s patented Aerosol Jet Printed Electronics technology and LENS powder-metal fabrication technology. The company has a global customer base of more than 100 users that includes many industry-leading manufacturers.